The prolonged COVID-19 pandemic has had heavy impacts on various business sectors. The tourism and hospitality industry was inevitably one of the hardest hit over the past few years. Particularly, operators of travel and hospitality businesses in Thailand’s southern region have experienced the severest impact compared to other regions in the country as the incomes of business entrepreneurs and people in the southern provinces have been estimated to come mainly from tourism, particularly since they can earn lucrative incomes from international visitors.
The government has consistently collaborated with the private sector to seek ways for greater development of tourism and its economic growth aiming to help the industry return to full strength, supported by the pilot economic development project known as ‘Andaman Wellness Economic Corridor’ launched to make southern provinces on the Andaman coast become the world’s largest health hub.
Dr. Thares Krassanairawiwong, Director-General of the Department of Health Service Support, the Ministry of Public Health, said the government has established policies to evolve Thailand into an international tourism hub, with the potential to drive growth for the health promotion and wellness tourism business, the health product and herb business, and the health tourism destinations. Thailand is currently recognised as one of the top five health tourism destinations in the world and the market value of wellness tourism in the country has seen steady increases continuously. As the pandemic situations of COVID-19 have been expected to be lessened, the government will focus more on promoting the high end market, where medical tourism and health and wellness tourism businesses is becoming more popular among tourists. The expenses of the two tourism groups have been estimated to cost around 80,000-100,000 baht per trip. Hence, promoting and expanding the two tourism groups will generate more stable incomes as Thailand is ready to become one of the world’s most renowned international health hubs. According to the government, three southern provinces on the Andaman coast, including Phuket, Phang Nga, and Krabi, will serve as the must-visit tourist destinations of the ‘Smart Health and Wellness City’ concept. The idea is to bring out the strengths in service of each province, where Phuket will serve as the best medical and international convention centre, Phang Nga will be recognised for its excellent elderly care services, and Krabi will be renowned for its one-of-a-kind therapeutic saltwater hot spring. Recently, the officials of the Department of Health Service Support have made a visit to the three provinces to discuss with related network partners about the integration of health tourism aiming to support the development of the Andaman Wellness Economic Corridor (AWC) project, getting ready for being the world’s best health hub conforming to the future’s metaverse virtual world development concept. (*Source: Press Release, the Department of Health Service Support, the Ministry of Public Health, March 11, 2022)
Mr. Karn Prachumpan, CEO of The Beach Development Co., Ltd. and a highly recognised real estate developer in Phuket, unveiled COVID-19 has already changed the world. That is why Phuket has to reinvent itself rapidly to cope with all the changes. It is quite obvious that traditional tourism is no longer the answer to the question. Hence, it is necessary to emphasise more on promoting health tourism, particularly when the visitors can obtain health benefits during and after their vacations, backed by greater loyalty and wisdom in tourism that can be fostered among the tourists. This will be a new mechanism to help propel Phuket towards a world-class tourist destination in the next era.
“Our company has successfully developed The Beach Plaza Kata-Phuket as a large-scale mixed-use project situated on an approximate 15-rai area in Kata Beach in Phuket’s Karon sub-district. At the same time, we have established Phuket City Development Co., Ltd. as a social enterprise to foster successful collaboration with strategic partners, government agencies, experts, and people in society following the establishment of development strategies to push Phuket towards the city of health tourism connecting to other major cities partnered in the Andaman Wellness Economic Corridor (AWC) project. Recently, the Thai cabinet has approved Phuket to host Specialised Expo 2028 Phuket and we therefore propose The Beach Plaza Kata-Phuket to be part of a pilot project known as ‘Karon Wellness Sandbox’ accordingly.”
Mr. Sompong Daopiset, CEO of Star Home Beach Resort Co., Ltd. and a chief executive of several leading hotels in Phang Nga province, said a person cannot keep developing a city alone. It requires collaborative actions from both the public and private sectors, whether it is about city planning, budget, or local administration. It is important to proceed immediately in order to make the Andaman Wellness Economic Corridor (AWC) project happen in reality.
“Recently, La Vela Khaolak Hotel has applied the concept of sports tourism as a key to making Phang Nga stronger. We are attempting to eradicate people’s old belief that ‘Phang Nga is a city for the elderly’ and replace it with the colorfulness of fun-filled and trendy activities. In addition to having lots of fun, visitors will also be acquainted with a new image of the province, which can continue to make Phang Nga another great tourist destination, despite being a small province in the south. Currently, Thailand is not the only one to shift its focus to health and wellness, but the whole world is seriously keeping pace with the trends. Related public organisations and private entrepreneurs must work hand in hand and we believe that our Return on Investment (ROI) will bring us some good advantages, whether the investment has been made for a project launched by the public or private sector.”
Finally, Mr. Wichai Poolworaluk, Chairman of Klongtom Heritage Co., Ltd. and one of the biggest leaders in real estate development in Klongthom district, talked about the readiness of Krabi province, stating that the Klongthom district has plenty of natural resources highlighted by Klongthom Salt Hot Springs, which is considered one of the world’s best mineral saltwater hot springs. This one-and-only underground treasure is very meaningful to local people since they use it in a rural way of life. According to the report, a massive number of people of more than 100,000 per year have visited the saltwater hot spring following the government’s approval for the site to be open for service as well as people’s word-of-mouth belief that the amazing underground wonder can prevent and cure diseases. This has resulted in the development of the Klongtom Heritage project, located on an approximate area of 300 rai, as part of the intention to promote Krabi as a famous health city among tourists. Aside from the highlight of the inimitable saltwater hot spring, the province is also blessed with beautiful nature, seas, and mountains as well as the friendliness of local people. Krabi deserves to be a city for a well-being lifestyle.
“During the first three years, we will work on project layout and zoning, in which the tourist attractions will be equipped with different zones, for example, the patient zone, the dependency and non-dependency zone, and the retirement and pre-retirement zone, to seek potential investors who specialise in health and wellness and have a similar vision to fill the missing parts in many areas of business operations and management. This has been expected to make Krabi a new health city with several interesting activities for health lovers from all over the world. By mid-2022, the company will announce the opening of a new physical therapy hospital for rehabilitation and treatment of stroke patients, with modern technology and medical equipment as well as teams of professional doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech correctors, and psychologists who are highly skilled and experienced in traditional Thai and Chinese medicine to be combined with the distinctive properties of the saltwater hot spring. This is considered the first important business jigsaw of the Klongtom Heritage project. We believe that Phuket, Phang Nga, and Krabi can really make the Andaman Wellness Economic Corridor (AWC) project exist in reality to form an economic and wellness triangle. The strategic collaboration has led Krabi into a new dimension. We no longer promote the ‘sea, sand, and sun’ tourism concept. We are not recognised only for having good food, favorite drinks, and excellent atmosphere. We are ready to show the world that we have a miracle of nature that no one can imitate,” concluded Mr. Wichai.